Are Dolphins Really That Smart and Does It Make Us Like Them More When They Are? (2019-2020)

This project team examined how dolphins use energy to solve cognitive problems and how the perception of dolphin intelligence by the public shapes attitudes toward their conservation.

The first study focused on comparing the total energy expenditure of several dolphins while they participated in a series of cognitive tasks and during a control period, using doubly labeled water to assess total energy expenditure. Since no previous research had examined dolphin total energy expenditure, this project provided the first cognitive energetics data ever collected on dolphins.

The second study included an experimental survey of visitors at the Dolphin Research Center to evaluate whether the perception of human-like cognitive skills in dolphins influences visitor attitudes and conservation-related behaviors. The project team conducted an experimental survey in which half the visitors were shown a presentation highlighting similarities between dolphins and humans, including cognitive similarities, while the other half were shown a presentation with differences. Researchers then assessed how this framing alters visitor attitudes and their tendency to donate to the center and dolphin conservation.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

Team Outputs

Is All That Brain Put to Use? A Study of Daily Energy Expenditure in Dolphins (poster by Ahmad Amireh, Chana Kaufman, Hannah Salomons, Rebecca Rimbach, Brian Hare, Herman Pontzer)


Dana Adcock

This Team in the News

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2022

Dolphins Get 40s Flab, Too

Can Dolphin Cognition Impact Marine Mammal Conservation?

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council


Image: Tursiops truncatus (Common Bottlenose Dolphin/Tuimelaar) by Bas Kers (NL) licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tursiops truncatus (Common Bottlenose Dolphin/Tuimelaar).

Team Leaders

  • Brian Hare, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Herman Pontzer, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Hannah Salomons, Arts and Sciences–Evolutionary Anthropology–Ph.D. Student
  • Vanessa Woods, Arts & Sciences-Evolutionary Anthropology

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Dana Adcock, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Ahmad Amireh, Biology (BS), Global Health (AB2)
  • Chana Kaufman, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Samantha Lee, Biology (BS)